Two months after the United States’ first monkeypox case was confirmed, the total has risen to about 2,900. But details about those cases and other epidemiological data aren’t spreading nearly as quickly as the virus itself, leaving holes in the response.
“It’s a new and really fast-moving outbreak, and I think there have been some challenges around having a smooth and efficient way for the data to be sent from jurisdictions” to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
The CDC only recently shared a first public look at monkeypox case demographics, which showed that the vast majority of cases have been among men who have sex with men, with a median age of 36.
But the agency has detailed information on only about half of the reported cases, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
Monkeypox is now a reportable disease, which means public health departments work with local health care providers to collect information about people who are diagnosed and how they became ill. But it is still completely voluntary for states to share data on monkeypox with the CDC.
CNN reached out to the health departments of all 50 states; 29 responded, and they all said they are committed to sharing case data with the CDC. Some, however, said that they are collecting more information than they share.
As the US battles another public health challenge amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Walensky said she is “struck” by “how little authority we at CDC have to receive the data.”
“We very much want to get as much information and informed decisions out to the American public as possible. And yet again, like we were for Covid, we are again really challenged by the fact that we at the agency have no authority to receive those data. We’re working on that right now,” she said in a conversation with The Washington Post on Friday.
For example, Walensky said, the CDC has no data on who has been vaccinated for monkeypox and does not yet have the authority to collect that data.
The only data shared publicly on monkeypox vaccines is weekly updates from the US Department of Health and Human Services on how many doses have been distributed to each state.
Last month, the CDC shared an initial draft of a data use agreement with states and other jurisdictions, essentially a contract that would broaden the agency’s access to data that states are collecting.
After soliciting feedback from states, the CDC shared a revised version of the agreement that focuses exclusively on vaccine administration data. States are reviewing the document, and a few have signed it.
The latest version of the data use agreement has “similar requirements and infrastructure as the states already use for Covid-19 vaccine data reporting,” according to the CDC.
Monkeypox not yet a public health emergency in US
Last month, the CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the response to the monkeypox outbreak and mobilize additional resources. And over the weekend, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.
But so far, monkeypox has not been declared a public health emergency in the United States. US health officials said over the weekend that the United States is still assessing the situation. US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Saturday the US is “determined to accelerate our response in the days ahead.”
A US declaration of a public health emergency could bring with it an official requirement to report certain data, but it’s more often used to move funds around, Hamilton said.
Although the public health emergency f